Women's centre seeking space in Whistler 

Squamish-based Howe Sound Women's Centre hoping to expand services in Whistler

A counselling service for children, which already has a significant waitlist, is facing further cutbacks due to a funding shortage.

The Howe Sound Women's Centre (HSWC) is running its Whistler children's counselling program on a bare bones budget.

Currently there are 10 to 15 children on the counselling waitlist. Each has been exposed to domestic violence or angry, damaging divorces.

That number is far too high, said Howe Sound Women's Centre children's program manager Shana Murray.

"We see kids whose parents are currently in an abusive relationship, whether they are part of it or have just witnessed it, it doesn't really matter, they need care," she said.

"The fact that we pay more for our rent space than we do for our counselling is a little bit shocking with so many kids on the waitlist."

The counselling program is currently run out of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce building. While Murray said the Chamber has kept the rent low, it's not low enough to expand or even maintain the current services provided by one counsellor. She said the program's best hope in the short term is financial donations to maintain the counsellor's wages.

In the long term, the HSWC is seeking a donation of land or real estate to create a permanent drop in centre.

"I know that people have a hard time funding wages but that's what we need more than anything because we need to get the kids off the waitlist and in to see our counsellor," said Murray.

"There are kids that are still living in these abusive homes or have parents who are divorcing and they haven't had a chance to deal with it. There are a few other counsellors in town but they can be expensive. All of our services are free. Not everyone in Whistler has lots of money."

A recent needs assessment survey of 110 female Whistler residents showed that other women-specific services are in demand in Whistler. The data colleted has strengthened the resolve of a working group that formed last spring to look at options for creating an HSWC-run Whistler Women's Centre by January 2012. The group has received a grant from the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation and is actively soliciting more donations.

"It was enough for us to figure out where there is a need," said Murray.

"There were some shocking stats of different things that are going on in Whistler as far as different kinds of abuse," said Murray.

"Drink spiking was really high and sexual harassment and emotional abuse was also quite high. It helps build our case that in fact a drop-in centre would be really helpful in the Whistler community and why there is a need for more services.

"We're not trying to take away from any services already up there, we're trying to add to them so there are no gaps."

The Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS) has supported the HSWC's goal of enhancing their presence in the community.

Claire Mozes, WCSS's program manager of outreach services said a women's centre in Whistler would be beneficial to the social service network as a whole.

"I think it would compliment the services that we offer," she said.

"It would be imperative that we work together so we don't duplicate services but we're already doing that.

"There are things that they specialize in that we don't offer right now so if we can spread out all the funding and all the support in the community to have everybody taken care of that would be better."

WCSS currently runs a program called Action for Justice, which puts Whistler residents in need of legal advice, specifically family and bankruptcy law, in touch with a free lawyer.

While Pemberton and Squamish have women's centres, no services like those offered by the HSWC exist in Whistler.




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